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  • Innovating Education

    Course Design in Canvas LMS

    Practical application of technology


    By Chantal Westerveld, MSc & Fleur Deenen, MSc.

  • In charge of designing your course in Canvas LMS? Technology will influence the didactical choices you make!

  • Course Design in Canvas LMS

    Practical application of technology

    IntroductionRecent technological developments are changing even the most conservative industries, and education is not

    staying behind. Logically so, because effectively shaping minds of students worldwide is of the utmost importance.

    Empowering this innovation is Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), which is increasingly being adopted by

    educational institutes as their primary LMS.

    According to Koehler and Mishra (2005): Good teaching is not simply

    adding technology to the existing teaching and content domain.(p.134).

    This sentiment illustrates the importance of properly incorporating new

    technology by revising the entire process, rather than just going with the flow.

    Implementing a new LMS gives instructional designers a perfect opportunity

    to take a close look at their course design.

    Throughout this whitepaper, we hope to help you (re)design courses by

    showing you how to properly combine a design cycle for course development,

    with all of the benefits that Canvas LMS has to offer.

    Good teaching is not simply adding technology to the existing teaching and content domain

  • 4 Drieam Whitepaper - Course Design in Canvas LMS - Practical application of technology

    Design cycleSeveral educational design models have been introduced over the last couple of decades. For the sake of this

    whitepaper, we have chosen to have a closer look at the ADDIE-approach as this widely used, generic design model

    can be applied to (almost) every educational domain (Dick, Carey & Carey, 2009).

    ADDIE consists of five interrelated phases: Analyze (identification of structural problem), Design (deciding on learning

    objectives, instructional methods and activities), Develop (creation of content and learning interactions such as cases,

    instructions and videos), Implementation (delivery of content to the students) and Evaluation.

    We believe that every modern and successful educational program starts with mapping out relevant learning

    outcomes, that is why we assume an outcome-oriented way of instructional design (Gulikers & Van Benthum, 2013).

    After finishing your program, what will your students have gained in terms of professional attitude, knowledge and

    skills? Defining learning outcomes will help determine what kind of assessment is best used within your specific

    course. This assessment program in turn will help you decide which teaching methods, educational resources and

    activities should be defined.

    In this whitepaper, well zoom in on the Design phase of the ADDIE-approach, which we split up in four steps:

    Learning Outcomes, Assessment, Content and Didactics (see Figure 1). Additionally, we will also reflect on the

    Evaluation phase of the ADDIE-approach towards the end of the document, because this crucial step generates

    important information for future course designs. Please keep in mind to always stay close to your own educational

    vision when (re)designing your course.

    Figure 1. A closer look at the Design cycle of the ADDIE-approach

  • Design Phase, Step 1. Learning outcomes What will your students be able to do after completing the cycle?

    According to Gosling and Moon (2001), a learning outcome is defined as something a learner is expected to know,

    understand and/or be able to demonstrate at the end of a period of learning.

    It wont come as a surprise that the first thing to do, when working with an outcome-based approach to learning, is

    to define which learning outcomes you want your students to achieve. While defining these outcomes, it is important

    to include specific outcomes in terms of observable behavior (Magner, 1975). We suggest using the revised Blooms

    Taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001) to help you define these outcomes by using active verbs.

    Once defined, presenting your outcomes to students will stimulate the learning process (Woolfolk, Hughes and

    Walkup, 2008). This is important because its proven that students need focus to help their brains distinguish between

    important and less important information (Dirksen, Boer, Mller & Willemse, 2014).

    Canvas allows you to facilitate all of this. You can use the LMS to add an overview of all relevant learning outcomes to

    the homepage or introduction page of a module (see Figure 2). It also allows you to use the Outcome functionality,

    through which you can clearly define the learning outcomes including different mastery levels.

    Figure 2. Entering learning outcomes in Canvas LMS


    Present learning outcomes to stimulate student learning

    Add applicable learning outcomes to the course using the outcome functionalityState learning outcomes on the homepage

    Add an introduction page with learning outcomes to every module

  • 6 Drieam Whitepaper - Course Design in Canvas LMS - Practical application of technology


    Align grading with learning outcomes Use outcomes in rubrics for grading


    Judgements about student learning at the end of a period of learning.


    Monitor process to shape and improve students competence.


    Helping students get insight in the progress of their learning.

    Graded quizzesGraded assignmentsGraded discussions

    Show results in Gradebook

    Ungraded quizzesUngraded assignmentsUngraded discussions

    Practice quizzesSurveys

    Automated feedback in quizzesManual feedback in Speedgrader

    Peer feedback

    Design Phase, Step 2. Assessment How will you assess the learning outcomes?

    Now that weve established clear learning outcomes, its time to move on to the next step in the Design Cycle:

    Assessment. In assessment, we distinguish three different ways: Summative Assessment, Formative Assessment and

    (direct) Formative Feedback. Each way has its own benefits and use in your course design, as well as the Canvas

    functionalities, which you can see in Figure 3.

    It is crucial that you choose the kind of assessment that fits your defined learning outcomes (Nusche, 2008). Canvas

    helps you to make the right decision by offering an optional usage of learning outcomes in assessment rubrics. In

    doing so, learning outcomes are directly used as a guideline for grading assignments, quizzes and discussions.

    Figure 3. Assessment in Canvas

  • Design Phase, Step 3. Content What kind of content will you present to your students?

    Up next is Content. What are you going to offer? How will you deliver it to your students? To ensure the quality of

    content, we advise you to think about these three steps in this phase: selection, organization and presentation (see

    Figure 4). Starting with selection, we suggest making sure that your content meets the following criteria:

    The content aligns with former knowledge (Dochy, 1993)

    The content comes across as interesting and catches the attention of readers (Hidi, 2006)

    The content matches the learning outcomes or personal goals of the students (Keller, 1987).

    With organization and presentation, it is important to take into account the effect of visual representation of your

    content. We would advise the use of predefined course templates, which are an excellent starting point for course

    development. Through these templates you can pre-structure the file storage repository, the course navigation

    and the homepage. Another note on the importance of proper presentation: according to the dual coding theory

    (Clarck & Paivio, 1991), the best way to stimulate students is by confronting them with audiovisual material like for

    instance a video. The way written and visual content is presented plays an exceptionally important role in getting

    and maintaining the interest and attention of your students (Hartley, 1999). Length, structure and layout of on-screen

    texts have to be correct (Lutgerink, n.d.), logical and free of redundant information.

    With Canvas, you can make sure the content is clutter-free by creating links to additional Canvas pages. Its a perfect

    way to keep your pages light, without sacrificing on content!


    1. Selection Proper content does not always mean you have to develop it

    Canvas commons: contains a collection of Canvas materials which are free to useShare your material in Commons as well, for colleagues or others to use

    Use modules for sense of order

    3. Presentation

    Use Rich Content Editor

    Share ideas in the Public Course IndexShowcase your course, inspire others!

    Indicate level of content

    Use Mastery Paths to control the content shown to a student

    Use interactive apps to enrich (eg. FeedbackFruits, h5p, Thinglink)

    ARC for interactive video

    Figure 4. Selecting, organizing and presenting content via Canvas

    2. Organization Use templates to pre-structure the files, course navigation and homepage

  • 8 Drieam Whitepaper - Course Design in Canvas LMS - Practical application of technology

    Design Phase, Step 4. Didactics How will you deliver the learning content to your students? What specific activities will you present that enable students to learn?

    If you have chosen to incorporate new technology and online learning into your educational program, you will

    have to decide on the what and how. Which content will be discussed during face-to-face sessions

    with your students and which will be used online? That brings us to the final step of our Design

    phase: Didactics! Thankfully, there are plenty of options to choose from, based on your own

    educational vision.

    Lets have a look at some of the options. According to a literature review by Lee, Lim &

    Kim (2017), online learning activities are most useful in situations where factual learning

    content is transferred using less intensive and challenging activities, whereas face-to-face

    meetings are more suitable when students need to work on intensive and complex tasks where

    collaboration is needed, in order to achieve a shared focus and common understanding.

    Fransen (2013) supports these findings, stating that there are three ways of learning, depending on the position of

    the learner in the process, as well as the function of the learners environment. These ways of learning are: individual

    self-study, learning through experts, and collaborative learning. Fransen observed that individual self-study is best

    suited for well documented and stable knowledge, while learning through experts helps with processing knowledge.

    Lee, Lim & Kim (2017) argue that, in order to reach a common understanding while working on more complex tasks,

    collaborative learning is simply put the best way to go.

    In order to provide you with the means to get the most out of all three ways of learning, we provide you with some

    examples on when to use the different Canvas functionalities (see Figure 5).


    Well documented stable knowledge

    Process new knowledge Complex situations


    Quizzes with auto feedbackMastery Paths



    Moderator in discussionsFeedback in Speedgrader


    CollaborationsPeer reviewConferencesWiki pages

    Figure 5. Learning activities in Canvas divided based on ways of learning

    Make a blend that aligns with your educationbal vision.

    Individual self-study Learning through experts Collaborative learning

  • Evaluation Phase How will you evaluate your design in order to constantly improve your course?

    Congratulations on finishing the Design phase of your course! Assuming that you will continue to develop and

    implement, you will thereafter reach the Evaluation phase of the ADDIE-approach. Arguably the most important

    phase, because evaluation will help you approach instructional design as a continuous cycle. Whatever your findings

    will be, the evaluation should be used to improve the course each and every time you complete another cycle.

    Canvas will help you to get the most out of your evaluations by using automatically gathered data from the Course

    Analytics and Learning Mastery (see Figure 6). Course Analytics will give you real-time information on the quality of

    your learning materials as well as on the structure of your course (Bogaard et al., 2016), while Learning Mastery will

    offer valuable insight into student learnings and their specific needs.


    Course analytics Learning mastery

    Real time overview of activity, interaction and assignments, which might help to improve the

    course in the future.

    Insight in performance on learning outcomes in order to better assess student needs.

    Figure 6. Evaluation through course analytics and learning mastery

  • 10 Drieam Whitepaper - Course Design in Canvas LMS - Practical application of technology

    Course Analytics offer very insightful data. With the help of this data, instructional designers will be able to answer

    the following questions and edit their courses accordingly:

    Which materials are most used?

    How active are students on discussions?

    Which students are behind on learning and what support do they need?

    Do students hand in assignments on time? Does this say something about the assignment level?

    For Learning Mastery, Canvas has the Learning Mastery Gradebook, which automatically gathers data of assignments,

    quizzes and discussions. Given the fact that the Gradebook presents you with relevant data, connected to the

    assessment of learning outcomes in step 2, this information is particularly useful during your evaluation.

    Take this scenario for example: if a single student scores low on one of your

    selected learning outcomes, you may consider giving him or her extra attention

    to help them improve. Whereas if all your students encounter difficulties it might

    be more accurate to say that it is your course, which needs help.

    In order to come to the root of this issue, a new cycle might be necessary to revise

    your learning outcomes, assessment, content or didactics. Whichever issue you

    will find could be fundamental for the future effectiveness of your course.

    Conclusion Seeing more and more educational institutes embrace technological assistance is great, however it is important to

    guide this development in the right direction to protect the quality of education as a whole. Learning to use new

    tools offers these institutes a perfect chance to reevaluate their courses and approach instructional design from a

    new angle. Going through cycles creates an ever-lasting feedback loop through which you will constantly be able to

    improve your own courses.

    We believe that a cyclic approach to the Design-phase of ADDIE, paired with Canvas LMS will help you to make

    the right choices when (re)designing your materials. Hopefully this whitepaper will make the switch towards this

    technology easier and more enjoyable.

    We are looking forward to hearing about your experiences and would like to emphasize that we are always available

    if you have further questions or find yourself in need of some assistance. Please do not hesitate to contact us if this

    is the case!

    Results of evaluations should be used to make better choices when redesigning courses

  • References Anderson, L. W. & Krathwohl, D. R. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing. A revision of Blooms taxonomy of educational objectives. New York/San Francisco: Longman.

    Bogaard, M. van den, Drachsler, H., Duisterwinkel, H., Knobbout, J., Manderveld, J., Wit, M. de, (2016). Learning analytics in het onderwijs: een onderwijskundig perspectief. SURFnet.

    Clark, J. M. & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory and education. Educational Psychology Review, 3, 149-210.

    Dick, W., Carey, L., & Carey, J. (2009). Systematic design of instruction (7th ed.). Toronto: Allyn & Bacon.

    Dirksen, G., Boer, M. de, Mller, H., & Willemse, J. (2014). Breindidactiek, helpen leren met breinkennis. Synaps Uitgeverij.

    Dochy, F. J. R. C. (1993). De invloed van voorkennis op het leerresultaat en het leerproces. In Tomic, W. & Span, P. Onderwijspsychologie: Benvloeding, verloop en resultaten van leerprocessen. Utrecht. Lemma

    Fransen, J. (2013). Toekomstgericht onderwijs bij Inholland; Instrumentatie van betekenisvolle interactie. Hogeschool Inholland; Lectoraat Teaching, Learning & Technology. Den Haag.

    Gosling, D., & Moon, J. (2001). How to write learning outcomes and assessment criteria. London: SEEC Office, University of East London.

    Gulikers, J. T. M., & Benthum, N. van. (2013). Toetsen in het hoger onderwijs. Houten: Bohn Stafleu van Loghum

    Hartley, J. (1999). What does it say? Text design, medical information and older readers. In DC. Park, R.W. Morrell & K. Shrifin (Eds.). Processing of medical information in aging patients, 233-247. Mahwah, N.J: Erlbaum.

    Hidi, S. (2006). Interest: A unique motivational variable. Educational Research Review, 1, 69-82.

    Keller, J. (1987). Strategies for stimulating the motivation to learn. Performance & Instruction, October 1987, 1-7.

    Koehler, M. J., & Mishra, P. (2005). What happens when teachers design educational technology? The development of technological pedagogical content knowledge. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 32(2), 131- 152.

    Lee, J., Lim, C, & Kim, H. (2017). Development of an instructional design model for flipped learning in higher education. Education Tech Research Dev, 65, 427-453.

    Lutgerink, J. (n.d.) Redactionele richtlijnen en schermpresentatie. Geschreven in opdracht van het Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open Universiteit. Retrieved from content-e/pub_RDMC/Redactionele_ richtlijnen_en_schermpresentatie_1288621410413/index.htm.

    Mager, R. F. (1975). Preparing instructional objectives. Belmont, CA.: Fearon.

    Nusche, D. (2008). Assessment of learning outcomes in higher education: a comparative review of selected practices. Innovacin Educativa, 8(45), 36-77.

    Woolfolk, A. H., Hughes, M., & Walkup, V. (2008). Psychology in Education. Edinburgh Gate: Pearson Education.

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